Before the day is out here in the UK, I should also mention that it is the fortieth anniversary of my watching The Time Warrior part one, or at least part of it, on first broadcast, and thus forty years of Doctor Who-watching (though it's not until season 12 that I'm sure I watched something of every episode).

It's also forty years since Sarah Jane Smith made her first appearance in the programme. Would that Elisabeth Sladen was around for us to toast her performances.
Today's Doctor Who DVD catch-up exercise was Death to the Daleks. I realise that I had never recognised John Abineri as Railton until now, perhaps because of his wig and also that he is unceremoniously dispatched by an Exxilon arrow early in part two. The casting of Duncan Lamont, the original Victor Caroon in The Quatermass Experiment, is appropriate as well as occasioning some frisson from the juxtaposition of a symbol of early British television science fiction with the Daleks. (ETA: my own historical perspective is of someone who has always viewed Quatermass as 'past' and the Daleks as 'current', but this was not the case for those who were making Death to the Daleks just a little over twenty years after The Quatermass Experiment.)

The production subtitles benefit from our knowing more about the development of Sarah Jane Smith and the subsitution of the (excellent and deservedly legendary) Elisabeth Sladen for the (taller, more 'womanly') April Walker. For all he says in interviews nowadays about the place of women in adventure stories, ropes and railway tracks, the Terrance Dicks of 1973 emerges as someone keen to enhance the role of women in Doctor Who, unsuccessfully urging Terry Nation to make Jill Tarrant second-in-command of the expedition, and emphasising Sarah's resourcefulness.

Lesser-known personalities are given coverage too - Arnold Yarrow, one of the acting profession's sprightly nonagenarians, is a cogent presence on the DVD's making-of documentary and the subtitles emphasise the breadth of his career. While Yarrow was glued into grey latex as the subterranean Exxilon Bellal, another studio in Television Centre was recording an episode of Softly Softly: Task Force quite possibly commissioned by Yarrow in his just-former capacity as that programme's script editor.

I'd come across a newspaper cutting from 1974 publicizing the London Saxophone Quartet's involvement with Death to the Daleks, and here they are on the soundtrack, performing the music of Carey Blyton. Blyton was in the process of leaving his long tenure as music editor at Faber, where he had been Benjamin Britten's editor, seeing his compositions through the press. Production subtitler Martin Wiggins draws attention to the quotations from music hall and nursery rhyme which pepper this score. His contributions to this period are understandably overshadowed by those of Dudley Simpson, but his determination to avoid electronic music (on the grounds that synthesizers were depriving musicians of income) was rewarded in a memorable score which arguably set a precedent for the rest of the 1970s as Dudley Simpson was steered away from close collaboration with the Radiophonic Workshop and back towards conventional music.

Visually Death to the Daleks supports my argument that it is in this, the last Pertwee/Letts/Dicks season, that the programme begins its Gothic phase, with Sarah finding her way through a temple set lit with flickering candles before being trussed up by priests ready to sacrifice her for bringing the latent past of the intelligent living city into the present of fear and ignorance. The execution of the scene is far more steeped in threat than the near-sacrifice of Jo at the end of The Daemons.
Despite my best intentions, I didn't leave my flat today until early evening, and even then that was only a shopping trip to a different town and a different supermarket to the ones I normally buy from. This was not only a consequence of the weather, but that the splitting headache I'd developed on Friday had not gone away. Exactly why I decided one of the most notorious Doctor Who stories of the third Doctor's tenure might have a medicinal purpose is lost to time and the unfathomable workings of my mind.

Invasion of the Dinosaurs is the only story of Jon Pertwee's last season where UNIT play a consistent and substantial role in the action; they are also returned to the streets of London for the first time in several years, since (I think) The Mind of Evil in 1971. This return to quasi-realistic spectacle shakes some of the cosiness out of the UNIT set-up, but in doing so it shows how much Doctor Who had changed within Jon Pertwee's tenure as the Doctor. The hard-edged near-future of most of his first season could not be returned to, and instead the deserted London under martial law is a self-consciously allegorical landscape, where order is maintained under emergency powers. Looters are detained in the expectation of a revival of old norms, but those norms didn't include prehistoric monsters roaming the streets, nor allow that authority figures are actively working to erase the very society which authenticates their power and status.

The DVD's picture quality is remarkable, and the colour restoration on part one (the videotape of which was mislaid, presumed destroyed, probably not long after transmission in 1974, leaving only a black and white film print presumably made with the intention of being exported to non-colour markets outside the UK) impressive even if it's of variable quality; the colours of the location scenes on part one bring out the dry grass of a hot summer evening in mid-1970s England when the sun is low in the sky, and is fitting for this London forced into a twilight existence. Throughout the story the film exterior sequences have more vibrant colours than 1970s telecine often manages, and the model shots of the foam rubber puppet dinosaurs are well served. The dinosaurs are not that bad, with the apatosaurus in particular well-realised; but then, large, placid and stupid is probably easier to achieve than fierce and terrifying. It's to be regretted that too much is demanded of the weakest of the models, the tyrannosaurus rex, and that some of the angles chosen during the model sequences expose the artificiality of monsters and their miniature sets.

Matthew Sweet's visual essay puts the contributions of the production team in context and points out just how hard the political allegory is made. The films in the 'Reminder Room' on the 'spaceship' on which the self-deluded colonists believe they are travelling to New Earth (though no cat-nuns will they there find) represent the selective, alarmist hand-wringing of sometime bien-pensants who have given up on the vast majority of their fellow human beings. Matthew Sweet observes that writer Malcolm Hulke was a longstanding member of the Communist Party of Great Britain, and in the 1960s many on the established left looked on askance as ecologist politics previously associated with fascism became adopted by their comrades. There's definitely something of the crisis of the social democratic state in Invasion of the Dinosaurs, from the political new directions offered by Charles Grover to the misguided idealism of Mike Yates and the drive for efficiency of General Finch, to the petty grandiose dreams of Professor Whitaker, a salutary tale of what can happen when the grant application of an Oxford don is rejected. This isn't so frivolous an observation as it might seem - Oxford has had a reputation as a more political university than its fellow ancient university Cambridge, educating several shapers of the so-called post-war consensus. Malcolm Hulke and script editor Terrance Dicks were perhaps inclined to reflect wryly on this, as they were Cambridge men.

Jon Pertwee might have resolved to leave the role of the Doctor, but he was still the consummate showman at this stage, seizing the opportunity for comedy when arrested as a looter, deploying a couple of variants of his Cockney accent, and convincing as a man of action through sheer authority despite - as David Brunt's production notes remind us - suffering from a long-term back injury that meant most of his falls were performed by Terry Walsh. Elisabeth Sladen observes in a 2003 interview included in the set that on this, her second story, she found herself playing a gentler, less assertive character than she did in her debut, The Time Warrior. Even there, Sarah was perhaps less dominating than she would have been had she been played by April Walker, whose casting, and sacking following objections from Jon Pertwee, was revealed in David Brunt's infotext in this set and is perhaps the greatest coup of the production notes. Lis Sladen describes her resolve to keep putting her all into the part despite its becoming a more passive companion role than expected with her usual smiling, positive demeanour, and it was not really a surprise that it was while watching this interview that my headache disappeared.
sir_guinglain: (SarahJane)
( Jan. 9th, 2012 11:54 pm)
I was an advocate of the theory that the initial replacement for Katy Manning on her departure from the role of Jo Grant in Doctor Who was Fiona Gaunt. I am happy to be intrigued by the revelation that the actress concerned was someone else entirely. When (for reasons explained on the other side of the link) this actress was doomed to depart before production on The Time Warrior had got very far, she was of course replaced by the late and much-missed Elisabeth Sladen; and my childhood and all that followed would have been very different.
sir_guinglain: (Pertwee_TVAction)
( Apr. 20th, 2011 05:29 pm)
Further to the news of Elisabeth Sladen's death yesterday, I've been dipping in and out of the latest Doctor Who DVD, Planet of the Spiders, which was released this week. There's a fifteen-minute interview with John Kane, who played Tommy in the serial, where (among other insights) he observes that Elisabeth Sladen had the same powers of being able to immerse herself in a role and perform with immediacy as Helen Mirren, and that he was very surprised that her career never took off to the heights he expected. As Russell T Davies said on the BBC News channel last night, acting is a hard business and it is easy to be forgotten.
I don't know what to say, really. My sister remarks that her first memory is of Sarah watching as Eldrad's hand regenerates and reanimates at the end of part one of The Hand of Fear. Elisabeth Sladen's Sarah Jane Smith was the perfect Doctor Who assistant and a touchstone of reliability and dedication in the face of otherworldly adversity for more than one generation. This is a great shock; to say she will be widely missed is an understatement. Her husband Brian Miller and daughter Sadie will be in everyone's thoughts.
I spent this afternoon at Faringdon Arts Festival, a thoroughly community-based event in Faringdon in south-west Oxfordshire (or north-west Berkshire if you abhor the 1974 boundary changes) with which renaissance man of writing Paul Cornell is involved. With live music (all kinds, very very good) playing through from the Market Place, the Breakfast Room in the Old Crown played host not only to Mr Cornell but to his fellow contributor to the Cardiff fantasty factory, Phil Ford, chief writer for The Sarah Jane Adventures. For two hours audiences were treated to live commentaries from their authors on first Phil's SJA story The Last Sontaran, and then Paul's The Family of Blood.

[personal profile] tree_and_leaf has given a great account of what transpired already on her journal. My main impression was of the children - having been a fan through the long wilderness years when Doctor Who and all concerned with it existed in a parallel universe inhabited by the definitely late teenage-plus, rainwear elbowing for space alongside battered leather jackets and perhaps too-crushed velvet. Now, the kids are most definitely in town, and asking the right questions for the most part, though one eight-year-old clearly already thought he should be running the show... Phil clearly enjoyed talking about his inspiration though most of his audience were too young to have seen Predator, which inspired his image of the invisible Sontaran; he cheerfully admitted to the sleight-of-hand by which the episode forced the pace of chase sequences to avoid resolving the question why Kaagh didn't just blast the SJA kids down. He gave a good answer to one child's question: "Apart from the news [Phil having admitted to finding inspiration in a news story about a satellite falling to earth], where do you get your ideas?" urging them to read and watch as much as they could. One boy was adamant that K9 was dead in Doctor Who, having no memory of the replacement K9 left behind with Sarah at the end of School Reunion, and thought that SJA was guilty of a continuity error in still having K9 there, if I understood him correctly. When Phil explained that this was not so, the boy exclaimed "So he is in Cardiff!" which was not really what viewers are meant to think given the occasional references to Sarah living in Ealing.

Paul had to get through a much more layered episode than Phil, Doctor Who's target audience being much broader than SJA's and having to include material that different sections of the family audience could relate to. Nonetheless the children were rapt, and the raising of several hands during the episode, despite Paul's insistence that he would not answer questions until the end, was probably a tribute to Paul's not childlike, but child-familiar obsession with the subject. I was not surprised to learn that the reason 'He who would valiant be' became the signature hymn of Human Nature/The Family of Blood was because it contained the line 'Follow the Master'; I'd forgotten that the episode ends on a medium close-up of the fobwatch, in the centre of the picture, in the elderly Tim's hand; and there was much amused speculation on how Professor Yana could have released the Master's essence from a cricket ball, if that had remained the vehicle for the Doctor's Time Lord nature while part of him was being John Smith.

All in all, a good idea - it was good to take this kind of retrospective out of venues like BAFTA and the BFI and place it among the folk culture where it really belongs.

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